THE 1948 XK120. 1961 E-Type. 1968 XJ. Jaguar has a history of smashing moulds, and into that elite group quietly rolls the I-Pace.
Engineered in Britain (good) and built in Austria (great), the battery electric dual-motor AWD five-door, five-seater crossover is conceptually similar to the epochal Tesla Model S, which it has been designed to conquest (brilliant), but – 400km-plus claimed range aside – that’s where the similarities cease between the luxury EV grand tourers.
Be prepared for a shock (no pun intended) when first encountering the Jaguar I-Pace in person, with its near-monobox proportions and cab-forward silhouette that’s pure concept car. Wearing the optional 22-inch alloys certainly adds to the drama.
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It’s inside, though, that the hushed EV really amps up the glamour, with what is undoubtedly Jaguar’s most alluring presentation in modern times, underscored by an elegant dashboard that’s big on intuitive ease, tactility and quality, sumptuous seating with an SUV altitude and space to spare for five (thanks to nearly three metres of wheelbase) and a flawless driving position. It’s even practical with 656L of cargo capacity. Some lower-lying plastics that seem beneath the brand, the lack of a sun block-out blind for the $3380 glass roof, and the odd rattle in these pre-production examples are the only real initial cabin disappointments.
We ought to save the superlatives for the I-Pace’s driveability, however, since in no way does the Coventry Cat feel like a luxo SUV barge. Quite the contrary; engage ‘drive’ and the sole (for now) EV400’s moon-shot acceleration is literally akin to mainlining speed; terrifically tactile steering and tenacious grip allow for Olympics-level ice-skater alacrity (hooray for mass-saving 94 percent aluminium construction, double wishbone front suspension, a multi-link rear, and 50/50 weight distribution) and the ride – sampled on 20-inch wheels and steel springs through to optional air suspension and 22s – varies from cushy to comfy.
There was little to sour our initial I-Pace taste – our available range readout fluctuated wildly, halving quickly for around 300km of real-world distance – someway short of the claimed 480km; the $2K air suspension did occasionally induce a queasy motion over speed humps; and even a mild raid of the options cupboard can have prices soaring well over $150K.
Still, imagination runs rife throughout this beguiling new luxury crossover slingshot from Great Britain. For decades its glittering back catalogue mired Jaguar into retro pastiche when instead it should have inspired the brand to innovate.
That’s what the I-Pace is all about. Breakthrough and break free. Company founder Sir William Lyons would be proud.